Movie review — Catching Fire shows trilogy has plenty of fuel to burn

There are few more enviable tasks than making a film based on best-selling young-adult book series. The intended audience is already well-defined and established, so there’s really not much the filmmakers need do in order to make a mint.

And, if precedence counts for anything (a certain vampiric/werewolf love story that shall remain nameless), the makers of such films don’t generally do very much beyond transposing the book’s dialogue into a screenplay and casting the “heart-throbbiest” of young actors to play their leading men and PHOTO COURTESY OF LIONSGATE PICTURES - Adventure - ‘Peeta Mellark' (Josh Hutcherson) and ‘Katniss Everdeen' (Jennifer Lawrence) face new dangers in ‘Catching Fire,' the sequel to ‘The Hunger Games.'

In such a climate, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a welcome breath of fresh air. Not to say that the film — the second entry in a planned trilogy, based on the Suzanne Collins series of the same name — breaks dramatically from its source material. It is as faithful as any fan of the book could hope, and anyone else could reasonably expect.

However, unlike in other adaptations — where the special effects, score and, especially, the acting and direction — feel more like vague afterthoughts shoehorned onto a story that was perfectly suited to print, these same elements serve to enrich and breathe life into the tale “Catching Fire” weaves.

The sequel follows the events of the first film, wherein Katniss Everdean (played by the extremely talented Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) came out the victors in the “Hunger Games” — in direct defiance of the nigh-omnipotent Capitol sponsors of the annual bloodbath.

“Catching Fire” sees the resulting aftermath create a spark of rebellion in the Districts (the rough equivalent of states in this post-apocalyptic world) that the Capitol rules, followed by Katniss and Peeta’s return to a new, even more dangerous incarnation of the Games at the behest of the sinister President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

The real kudos for the success of “Catching Fire” go to its ensemble cast, led by Lawrence, but also featuring the talents of Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Liam Hemsworth and Elizabeth Banks. They lend to the story a truly surprising emotional depth — so much so that viewers are likely to even forget how silly their characters’ names are. Bookended by well-rendered action sequences, the dialogue and the cast force viewers to confront the deeper themes encapsulated within the story.

The film’s biggest weakness is its extended runtime. Probably an unavoidable flaw, being based on a novel with such a large and devoted fan base, but a noticeable one, such that by the time the characters actually enter the arena of the film’s titular “Games,” one feels as though he’s already watched an entire movie.

All told, “Catching Fire” improves upon the ground tread by its predecessor, delivering on what it promises and blowing away any low expectations in the process. “Hunger Games” fans will love it, and even those unfamiliar with or apathetic toward the series should have no trouble stomaching it.

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